Police car chases should commence only when the risk of harm from the chase is less than the threat of harm from the underlying alleged crime. Common sense has finally prevailed upon the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to abandon it’s outdated dangerous vehicle pursuit policies by permitting police chases only when the chases are being used to prevent imminent violent criminal conduct.
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The new policy allows deputies to pursue vehicles if and only if the following criteria is met:
1. The suspect must have committed a forcible felony.
2. The forcible felony must be categorized as one that actually endangers the public such as an armed robbery, sexual battery, attempted murder or murder.
3. There must be imminent or continuous threat to the public.
Part of the problem with the old rules was that even an infraction such as running a red light could trigger a very dangerous high speed chase if an officer believed that the there was any danger to the public. This led to highly threatening situations caused by the police chase itself. And while citizen’s lives were risked from mere traffic infractions that resulted in car pursuits, many officers were not even giving traffic tickets to officers who violated traffic laws.
Parsing thru the new rules, the goal is to forbid officers from engaging in high speed chases unless there’s an immediate and very real threat to the public. Following this criteria brings some interesting changes to actual police conduct. Bad driving alone will no longer be sufficient cause to give chase unless the driving itself of great public danger. Also, there will be no high speed vehicle pursuits for nonviolent crimes such as grand theft or stealing an officer’s hat under the new rules.
If these rules are followed in Tampa Bay the number of active police pursuits should decline. But so far other police agencies have not made effective changes to their agency’s police policies. For example, the St. Petersburg Police Department pursuit policies have endangered lives even when the underlying felony is not violent. All of the Tampa Bay agencies should adjust their pursuit policies so that only suspects who are believed to have committed violent acts are pursued in high speed chases. For leading by example the Pinellas County Sheriff should be commended.